Though often overshadowed by Seoul (the popular destination where all things K-pop related are located), Busan - the second biggest metropolitan city after Seoul in South Korea - is a great getaway with a lovely mix of delicious food and cultural views.
We arrived at Busan late in the evening and made our way to our accommodation at BIFF Square, the original location of the well-known Busan International Film Festival.
Despite it being after dark, the area was still bright with lights and shoppers busy weaving in and out of shops.
Restaurants open till late along this stretch, giving us a wide choice of dinner options.
A fishy experience
The next morning, we headed out to Korea's biggest seafood market, Jagalchi Market, a short walking distance from BIFF Square.
There is a main building where floors are lined with stores as well as restaurants where you can dine on freshly sliced fish and seafood prepared in any style you fancy, be it steamed, grilled or raw.
But the action actually starts much earlier, with rows of stores on the outskirts hawking fresh seafood. Here, you will find seafood of all kinds, including ones you may have never seen before.
As we walked along the streets surrounding Jagalchi Market, the aroma of freshly grilled fish wafting in the air proved too tempting. So we tucked into a delicious meal, complete with Korean side dishes known as banchang.
Spotting a fruit stall nearby, we bought a box of huge juicy strawberries for a steal to make our meal complete.
Temple by the sea
We then went to see one of the most unique temples in South Korea due to its location.
In a country where most of the temples are located in the mountains, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple offers a different view as it sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean, making a picturesque sight as waves break along the sides of the building.
Buddhist teacher Naong built the temple during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1376, after the divine sea god of the East Sea appeared to him in a dream, and it was reconstructed in 1970.
From the main entrance to the temple, you have to climb 108 steps that offer you different views of the temple. The number of steps is also symbolic of the 108 sufferings in Buddhism.
Outside the temple, you can find a variety of stalls selling souvenirs and knick-knacks as well as different local street snacks. Many people bought snacks and munched on them while walking along the surrounding area by the sea.
Art in a village
Next, we visited Gamcheon Culture Village. It is also known as the "Santorini on the South Sea", and for a good reason.
From afar, it is hard to miss the colourful houses built on the hillside that look similar to stacked up Lego bricks. And though the sight was amazing to look at from a distance, there was a lot more to see within the village itself.
The area where the village is situated was once considered one of the poorer areas in Busan, housing many refugees during the Korean War.
In 2009, a public art project was initiated, with artists collaborating with local villagers to create works of art in the form of murals painted along the sides of houses, as well as turning abandoned houses into art exhibits and small artsy cafes.
A public bus took us up a steep winding path from the nearest train station to the main village centre.
Here, we bought a map that gave us information of the various works of art located in the city.
There was also a treasure hunt that we could participate in. We just had to look for several locations to collect stamps and when completed, we could get a free commemorative postcard.
We decided to just walk around. Everywhere we turned, there were interesting murals or installations to admire. There were also colourfully decorated wooden "fish" that served as markers to lead us around the village.
There were some spots earmarked for phototaking, such as on the rooftops of buildings, where one can get a panoramic view of the full stretch of buildings in the village.
One memorable artwork was "Becoming One With Gamcheon", where artist Moon Byung Tak painted the scenery on silhouetted cut-outs of humans, such that at certain angles, it is hard to differentiate the sculptures from the background.
Fans of The Little Prince novel will also be thrilled to take pictures with a sculpture of him and his desert fox seated looking out at the village.
It was soon time to head back to our hotel for some rest, but not without picking up a snack along the way - ssiat hotteok, the Busan version of hotteok (sweet Korean pancake).
The main difference between this and the Seoul version is the generous helping of nuts, seeds, sugar and cinnamon powder that is stuffed in between the delicious fried dough, making it a sweet ending to our adventure-filled day.
-There are flights to Busan's Gimhae International Airport via Air Asia and China Eastern Airlines.
-Alternatively, you can take a flight to Seoul and take a domestic flight from Gimpo International Airport or a three-hour ride on the Korea Train Express (KTX).
-If you are coming from Seoul, you can also use the same T-money card for the buses and subway in Busan. However, to top-up your card, you will have to do it at a convenience store as the subway recharge machines only recognise the local Hanaro system.
-The street food in Busan may have the same name as its counterpart in Seoul, but it may be prepared with slight variations. For example, the Busan odeng (fish cake) contains more fish than the Seoul version, while the hotteok has an extra helping of nuts in the centre.
-Wear comfortable shoes when exploring the sights, as the destinations are usually located quite far apart from one another and from the nearest train station.
This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.
This article was first published on July 8, 2014.
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